Get us in your inbox

Gay Village, Manchester
Photograph: Shutterstock

The 22 best things to do in Manchester

From major museums to musical muses here are all the best things to do in Manchester

Rob Martin
Kyle MacNeill
Written by
Rob Martin
Kyle MacNeill

An urban myth has persisted for a hot second: it states that Manchester is sparring with Birmingham for the title of the UK’s Second City. It misses the mark; most Mancunians would happily do away with both Brum and London and take the title of the UK’s Best City. Fight us! Two of its neighbourhoods made our list of the coolest in the whole world, after all. Manchester is, of course, known the world over thanks to its rich history, spanning every corner of culture – footy, fashion, dance music – you name it, we’ve been there, done that and sold the promotional T-shirt.

Plus we boast a hell of a lot of big names, from The Smiths to Marcus Rashford. But while it’s impossible to ignore such an ace past, the city isn’t an archive gathering dust. Relentless construction, a newfound confidence and the next generation of creatives are driving the city crane-first into the future (including the new Factory International, opened in June 2023). So, if you’re down to skip ahead to the next page of destiny’s script, make a beeline for MCR. Without any further bumbling, here are the 22 best things to do in Manchester. Just don’t call it the Second City, OK? 

🍝 The best
restaurants in Manchester
📍 The best things to do in Manchester
🍸 The best bars in Manchester
🏘️ The best Airbnbs in Manchester

This guide was recently updated by Kyle MacNeill, a writer based in Manchester. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines.

What to do in Manchester

What is it? A canalside neighbourhood that’s now very much the place to be. With a wave of a regeneration wand, this former textile district is a hit with both seasoned locals and visiting foodies.

Why go? Way back before it became a favourite hangout for food-obsessed millennials living in expansive digs with expensive dogs, Ancoats was known as Little Italy in honour of the many Italian immigrants who came to live here during the late nineteenth century. Honour that heritage with superb pizza at the original Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza, which has proven so popular since setting up shop in 2015 that it’s spread itself thickly across the entire country. Or, if you’re more of a pasta aficionado , load up at lunchtime at Sud Pasta Kitchen.

If you’re into seasonal small plates that punch way above their size head washed down with natural wine, swan over to Erst or Flawd (technically in New Islington but it’s barely a cork’s throw away). The latter’s little platters are served up by sunny day hotspot Ancoats Marina too, so saunter over on a lazy Sunday after a scarfing down a cruffin at indie bakery Pollen.

Don’t miss: Mana, Manchester’s first Michelin-starred restaurant since 1977.

What is it? Manchester gained the status in 2017 and hosts literary events and tours throughout the year. 

Why go? There are the buildings for a start. Manchester Central Library, Chetham’s, the oldest surviving public library in the English-speaking world; the Victorian Gothic John Rylands Library on Deansgate; and the Portico Library, a hidden haven completed in the Greek revival style in 1806. But this UNESCO recognition also celebrates writers like Anthony Burgess and Elizabeth Gaskell, stories old and new, and our flourishing independent shops like Bopcap Books and Chorlton Books that keep the city’s literary heritage thriving. That’s not all: if you're not averse to a verse or two, head to Manchester Poetry Library. If mags are more your bag, ricochet between Village Books and UniTom and gloss over their illustrious titles.

Don’t miss: The annual Manchester Literature Festival as well as tours and events happening throughout the year.


What is it? Ten thousand people all under one roof, raving in a mega warehouse.

Why go? Started in 2006 by local nightlife overlord Sacha Lord, The Warehouse Project (or WHP) has become an iconic after-hours institution. Moving with nomadic speed from Boddingtons Brewery to an air raid shelter under Manchester Piccadilly to Victoria Warehouse, it’s now located in the capacious space of Depot Mayfield.

Each season runs from September to NYD and is stacked with basically every single selector you could possibly think of; this year features the likes of Bicep, Jon Hopkins, Kerri Chandler, Jayda G, Joy Orbison, Eliza Rose, the entire Rush Hour crew, DJ BORING, Bradley Zero, Dan Shake and Elkka (to prove a point, that’s in a single night on Saturday September 16). Tickets naturally sell like hotcakes covered in gold leaf, so be quick.

Don’t miss: Get lost at The Depot for a NYE that always delivers.

Flip through sleeves at the city’s best record stores
Photograph: Daniel Kennedy

4. Flip through sleeves at the city’s best record stores

What is it? Independent record stores such as Vinyl Exchange, Eastern Bloc and Piccadilly Records have been supplying Mancs with mega tunes for years, paving the way for the next generation of local bands.

Why go? The shops have become world-renowned for their collections. There are some gems outside the city centre, too. Take a quick trip to Burnage, for example, and you’ll find Sifters, immortalised in the Oasis song ‘Shakermaker’.

Don’t miss: Over the way in Chorlton, Kingbee Records offers a treasure trove of rare cuts among the Wet Wet Wet and Meat Loaf albums nobody wants any more. In fact, so good is Kingbee’s collection that some have been known to regularly come all the way from New York to visit (arriving with an empty suitcase and leaving with one that won’t zip up).

Sip the city’s finest craft beer
Photograph: Kate Borkowski

5. Sip the city’s finest craft beer

What is it? Manchester produces some of the finest craft beer in the world, so make sure you stumble to some of its best breweries and beer houses. 

Why go? Make a beeline – or should that be a beerline? – towards speciality bars like new bird-on-the-block Pelican (which opened in April 2023), the Piccadilly Tap (run by the team behind London’s Euston Tap) and Beermoth, all within a few minutes’ walk of Piccadilly Gardens. After something more specific? Try one of a number of bars run by local brewers: Blackjack Brewery’s Smithfield Market Tavern (just next to Band on the Wall), Seven Bro7hers’ Bar in Ancoats or the historic Marble Arch pub on Rochdale Road, which showcases Marble’s newest beers.

Don’t miss: Brewery visits are ideal for those looking to sample beers fresh from the tank. The industrial area to the east of Piccadilly is heaving with taprooms pouring ace ales; hop between Shindigger, Manchester Union Brewery, Track Brewery, Cloudwater and Sureshot. They’re mere metres apart so don’t worry too much if you’re a little wobbly on your feet.

Fill up at a food market
Photograph: Honest Crust Pizza

6. Fill up at a food market

What is it?  Incredibly hungry and highly indecisive? Savour the huge range of gastronomic options on offer at the city’s best food markets.

Why go?  Pop over to Grub for ever-revolving residents  and banging plant-based options. Not taking your fancy?  Shuffle over to Mackie Mayor instead, a huge converted Grade II-listed building that promises 400 seats and cracking food from nine independent kitchens including broth behemoth New Wave Ramen and pioneer of all things piquant Pico’s Tacos.

Don’t miss: Closer to Altrinham but craving the food of Mackie Mayor? Head to its regenerated sister venue Alty Market for the exact same scran and a change of scenery.

  • Shopping
  • Art, craft and hobbies

What is it? Arts, crafts, jewellery and illustration stalls that showcase the city's creativity. 

Why go? When it comes to making things, Manchester is the Queen Bee. Drawing on its industrious industrial past, the city is alive with creatives crafting things and teaching you how to do so too. Head to the Manchester Craft and Design Center in NQ to discover more than 30 independent artists under one roof, pick up the perfect staycation souvenir or challenge yourself at one of their many jewellery or illustration workshops. Or squeeze your way down wafer-thin Ancoats alleyway Bradley Street to chic lifestyle store Form, hosting regular classes on terrazzo tiles, natural candle making and embroidery. 

Don’t miss: The Maker’s Market, featuring scores of local artists (and eateries) on weekends in a revolving roster of places (often boujee suburb West Didsbury and bohemian hotspot Chorlton).

Get your fill in Chinatown
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Get your fill in Chinatown

What is it? The second largest Chinatown doesn’t just serve up Chinese food; it’s home to a whole host of Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and Japanese joints.

Why go? If you’re doing any sort of East Asian cooking, skip the Big Four and head to the area’s array of authentic supermarkets. Blue Whale is king when it comes to procuring seafood fresh from the tank, while Hang Won Hong and its delivery service TukTuk Mart have a wicked selection of fresh herbs and store cupboard essentials. Not keen on getting the wok out? Go to Pho Cue for the best Vietnamese food you’ll ever eat or join the serpentine queue at Happy Seasons for its signature roasted dishes.

Don’t miss: Sunk a few too many Tsingtaos with your spring rolls? Need to dance it off? Bop to Vina, K2, Orchid or all three for a proper karaoke experience. 

Spend hours shopping for secondhand clobber
Photograph: @blue.rinse.vintage

9. Spend hours shopping for secondhand clobber

What is it? Every day is a vintage one on Oldham Street in the Northern Quarter. It’s lined with what we reckon is the most secondhand stores on a single road in the whole of the UK. 

Why go? Into thrifting? This is your haven. Start from the Piccadilly-end and strut your way into Blue Rinse, a huge vintage emporium that restocks on the regular. A few doors down and you’ll find the equally beefy Cow, stacked with two floors of garms and an always impeccably-curated window display to lure you in. Next on the stretch is Oxfam Originals (your dream eighties suit is here) and Gone Fishing, a hangout with bangers on its hangers, especially retro Italian gear from Stone Island, Missoni and CP Company. To complete the loop, walk a few paces opposite to Pop Boutique.

Don’t miss: The permanent kilo sale round the back of Blue Rinse (next to NQ64) to bag a bargain.

What is it? As well as works by its Mancunian namesake, The Lowry features three performance spaces, which play host to musicals, comedy and more.

Why go? A long time ago, some very clever people decided that the area where Salford and Trafford come together – the abandoned quays, which once formed a busy dockland – would make an ideal leisure destination. So now we have a wonderful waterside location just ten minutes from the city centre. The Lowry is a hot spot for top theatre, from world premieres to West End successes. Once the show’s over, you can also explore shops, a cinema, restaurants and plenty else besides.

Don’t miss: Imperial War Museum North and Old Trafford Stadium are both within walking distance of The Lowry. 

  • Museums
  • Natural history

What is it? The city’s best-known museum, famed for its collection of natural history and human artefacts. 

Why go? After two years and £15m it’s just reopened to universal acclaim featuring spruced up galleries and a brand new exhibition space. Filled with over four million thingamajigs of all kinds, the new headline act is the Golden Mummies of Egypt exhibit exploring beliefs about the afterlife during the Graeco-Roman era of Ancient Egypt. There's also a brand new permanent South Asia Gallery, the first of its kind in the UK. Plus – for some proper T-Rextasy – dinosaurs!

Don’t miss: The gift shop (yes, really). It’s way more than naff pens and oversized erasers; you'll find local crafts and gorgeous jewellery that magically teleports you to the counter.

Catch a show at the city’s cutting-edge theatres
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. Catch a show at the city’s cutting-edge theatres

What is it? Manchester is home to some of the UK’s best theatres, staging crowd-pleasing musicals and fearless performance art.

Why go? The spaceship-like Royal Exchange is the city’s most famous theatre, creating a tantalising mixture of radically updated classics and bold new writing. But don’t miss the chance to also head to Ancoats for the Hope Mill Theatre (known to produce some excellent musicals) or HOME, the £25 million arts complex with a penchant for high-quality fringe shows and boundary-smashing performance art. If comedy is more your thing, see local favourites take to the stage at Gullivers or get to know the next generation of stand-ups at the Frog and Bucket.

Don't miss: The stunningly strange interior architecture of the Royal Exchange is worth a visit in its own right

Immerse yourself in the beautiful game
Photograph: Shutterstock

13. Immerse yourself in the beautiful game

What is it? Both United and City’s grounds offer tours and behind-the-scenes opportunities, or visit the National Football Museum to geek out over the game’s history. 

Why go? Where would Manchester be without never-ending, chant-inducing football? It’s the first thing anyone in the world comments on when you say Manchester to them. With two major teams (arch-rivals and with armies of fans, naturally), plus the National Football Museum in the city centre, it’s safe to say that some Mancunians – and tourists – live and breathe football. Both United and City’s grounds offer tours and behind-the-scenes opportunities, and you could easily spend your entire month’s wages in their shops. For those with a more general interest in the sport, the NFM provides a great opportunity to geek out on your team’s league history, test out your football skills and learn the history of the beautiful game.

Don’t miss: At NFM, you can see the 1966 World Cup ball, the Sleeping Beckham work of art by Sam Taylor-Wood, Maradona’s 1986 ‘hand of God’ match shirt, and postcards from 1906 of women football players.

Stroll down Beech Road
Photograph: Wayne WindowCo / Wikimedia Commons

14. Stroll down Beech Road

What is it? A relaxed, pretty street in the suburb of Chorlton, packed full of independent cafés and shops. 

Why go? After a night out on the tiles, unplaster yourself with a cup of exceptional coffee from Barrio or unleash the hair of the dog with a top-notch Bloody Mary at Instagram hotspot The Laundrette or South Manchester’s best Guinness at The Bowling Green. If you're into your tapas, Bar San Juan is legendary (and one of the best restaurants full stop in the entire city) serving up authentic Spanish small plates with sanguine vibes and vats of sangria.

Don’t miss: It’s just a short walk from here to Chorlton Green, and then on to Chorlton Water Park, a lush nature reserve where a flask of tea and picnic in the sun (yes, sometimes it’s sunny in Manchester) will round off a perfect day.

Have a big night out in the Gay Village
Photograph: Shutterstock

15. Have a big night out in the Gay Village

What is it? Focused on lively nightlife hotspot Canal Street, Manchester’s Gay Village is a technicoloured space almost entirely dedicated to LGBTQ+ bars, pubs, clubs and sex shops.

Why go? Compared to most parts of the city, Village – as it’s fondly shortened to – is pretty much open all hours pumping out kitsch cheesy bangers. Head to the area’s beating heart – Bar Pop – for one of its drag nights or crawl between The Molly House, Thompsons Arms or The Goose for pints and pop in a safe space. There's also private members venue The Eagle and basement musical theatre themed bar Oscars if you fancy something with a little more pizazz. If you’re heading there in the light of day make sure to check out the poignant Alan Turing memorial in Sackville Gardens.

Don’t miss: Time your visit for Manchester Pride: it’s one of the biggest and best in the UK.

Get an earful of Manchester’s intimate music venues
Photograph: Shutterstock

16. Get an earful of Manchester’s intimate music venues

What is it? Manchester’s many brilliant small music venues showcasing upcoming acts and welcoming back homebound heroes.

Why go? They’re as much a history lesson as they are a vision of the future. Swagger your way to Night and Day – once the stomping ground of everyone from Shaun Ryder to Liam Gallagher – or pop opposite to Gullivers for a mate-of-a-mate’s gig and showering of spilt beer. There’s also the legendary and newly refurbished Band on The Wall round the corner (Buzzcocks, The Fall and Joy Division have all played here) for bigger gigs. If you’re up for a slight detour, worm your way to Oxford Road and check out student staple and new band haven Big Hands or catch a major name in the millennial pink basement of late-night bar and club YES or the recently-saved Gorilla.

Don’t miss: Catching live jazz any night of the week at cult venue Matt and Phred’s.

Get a picture of the city’s art scene
Photograph: Shutterstock

17. Get a picture of the city’s art scene

What is it? We might hate pretension in Manchester but that doesn’t stop us from having a ton of cutting-edge art galleries.

Why go? Art without the (sorry Londoners) wankiness. Head to The Whitworth for a whole host of exhibitions: its permanent collection spans 60,000 works of art, textiles and wallpapers. Plus it’s got a delightful park to stretch out in after. ​​There's also Manchester Art Gallery slap bang in the city centre for more major exhibitions and an illustrious collection of fine art, ceramics and costumes.

Don’t miss: Keep this one secret: but RAG Gallery in Chorlton – previously an HSBC branch – is the coolest new DIY arts space featuring performance art and work from young local creatives at the wheel of the vanguard.

What is it? Manchester’s new flagship (and a little spaceship) arts space, which opened in June 2023.

Why go? It’s only just been (partially) opened, cost an eye-drenching £210m and is the UK’s largest new cultural project since the Tate Modern. Its doors were swung open in June for Manchester International Festival – the city’s biennial celebration of the arts – and already houses the largest Yayoi Kusama exhibition ever shown. There’s no understating how big of a deal Factory International (or for our insurance policy: now Aviva Studios) is set to be for the city, creating 1500 jobs, injecting £1.1bn into the city's economy every single year and supporting young creatives through the Factory Academy initiative. 

Don’t miss: The official opening in October 2023 – Danny Boyle's 'Free Your Mind' – a mind-blowing dance adaptation of The Matrix.

📍 Read all about our first look at Manchester's blockbuster arts venue

Take a quick trip to Stockport
Photograph: Shutterstock

19. Take a quick trip to Stockport

What is it? Manchester’s most exciting suburb and just a nine-minute train from Piccadilly.

Why go? Locals might be ever-so-slightly bemused by DJ Luke Unabomber’s intentionally facetious claim that ‘Stockport is the New Berlin’ – but it’s definitely the creative place to be right now (and worthy of a day trip). The wave of independent businesses is seemingly endless; check out the blooming good Plant Shop, zine haven Rare Mags and vinyl trove SK1 Records to get started. If you’re into antiques and nick-nacks head to Rare Finds, Sqound or Top of the Town. Fancy some top-notch scran? Try out ridiculously buzzy slow food spot Where The Light Gets In or its sister bakery Yellowhammer and head to apothecary-inspired The Cracked Actor or local institution Bakers Vaults for a pint.

Don’t miss: For something a little more zany, head to the Hat Works museum and doth your cap to the milliners of the past.

Have a mad orbital rave
Photograph: The Loft

20. Have a mad orbital rave

What is it? A club of world-class clubs all north of Manchester’s ring road.

Why go? From edgy new spaces to legendary cult venues, Manchester's best nights out are north of Ancoats and on the fringes. Start at sinful ‘impiety shop’ Peste – the city’s best-kept secret – for its spooky Gothic interior, sordid bookshelf and range of forgotten spirits. From there, you can head further out of the city towards all-nighter epicentre Hidden, newly-revived club-pub the Derby Brewery Arms (DBA to locals), banging new-ish venue The Loft or the holy grail of clubbing The White Hotel, one of the greatest and most hedonistic clubs in the UK.

Don’t miss: Basically anything at The White Hotel. It’s not for the faint of heart but you’ll want to become a permanent resident there after staying until sunrise listening to relentless techno.

Settle in for the day in an old boozer
Photograph: Shutterstock

21. Settle in for the day in an old boozer

What is it? A handful of historic pubs ready to welcome you in with open arms and deceptively comfy seating.

Why go? This is history you can drink. The oldest boozer in the city is unsurprisingly the Old Wellington Inn, first opened way back in 1552 and still serving next door to the also-geriatric but equally great Sinclair’s Oyster Bar (Londoners look away: £3 for a proper good pint!) Try the Briton’s Protection too for a legendary ale house that reputedly treated people on its bar that were injured in the Peterloo Massacre. Best though is Peveril of the Peak – or The Pev for short – a green-titled powerhouse of a public house complete with jukebox, pool table, dartboard and some of the best vibes around.

Don’t miss: You might miss this as it’s so small; squeeze into The Circus Tavern on Portland Street, the smallest pub in the city and one of the tiniest in the entire country.

Tap into Manchester’s activist past
Photograph: Shutterstock

22. Tap into Manchester’s activist past

What is it? The industrial revolution wasn’t the city’s only revolutionary moment; explore Manchester’s history of progressive politics and stoic activism.

Why go? If you’re a history buff you have to visit St. Peter’s Square; it’s not only home to the Central Library and Town Hall but also was the site of the tragic 1819 Peterloo Massacre. There’s also the Pankhurst Centre (the literal birthplace of the suffragette movement) letting you inside to learn about the fight for the right for women to vote. The People's History Museum meanwhile tells the story of democracy in the UK while the Working Class Movement Library based in Salford holds a huge collection of literature dedicated to the struggles of working people.

Don’t miss: To learn more about Manchester’s multicultural history check out the Manchester Jewish Museum and Spanish cultural centre the Instituto Cervantes.

    You may also like
    You may also like